Encouraging Employee Participation in Your Online Community
On the topic of employee participation in online communities, Richard Millington of FeverBee says it most succinctly:
“Your employees probably aren’t keen to help you build a community. It’s more work for them. It’s not even in their job description. If you force them to get involved, you’re going to get the minimum effort.”
It's important, therefore, to look at the strengths and needs of your community before deciding to invite or enhance employee involvement. Part of the assessment should be whether staff participation will add value or be an unnecessary and wasteful distraction. Once you decide to go ahead, invest some time strategizing ways to motivate your staff to join.
How do you create a vested interest for employees to participate and grow your community, particularly if they are crucial to your online mission?
Depending on your needs, there are two classic strategies, either carrot or stick. In either case, Millington advises that you create a scheme that plays on your crew members' craving for responsibility, fame or ego-strokes.
Requiring Staff Participation
Online forums offer many cost-effective options for management/staff communication. You can post electronic versions of memos, newsletters, announcements about events, policy changes, and new opportunities available within the organization. Provide information through the community that is essential; make it something that your employees feel they must be part of. If you want staff to log in to the forum regularly, you must at least provide something that cannot be found anywhere else.
When incorporated as part of a "paperless office" campaign, you can electronically post all previously printed materials to the community archives. Your staff will have access to the latest versions of all important documents and be able to revisit training documents and notices that predate their first day with you. In this way, an online forum archive can be a great resource for both new and long-time employees.
Once employees become familiar with logging onto your company's online tools, it becomes a simpler matter to develop community. Particularly if you have several work sites or both on-site and virtual employees, online forums can be a convenient means of connecting different departments or groups. Make sure to provide discussion forums that encourage your staff to develop peer problem-solving, research and other types of interaction for sharing your company's culture and brain trust.
If you decide to make an online community mandatory, it's important to communicate the strategy through workshops prepared by the community manager. Include training for beginners and advanced users that share tips and best practices, as well as clear statements of your online community's policies and practices. Finally, use your forum as a written record of employees' participation, concerns, trends and issues.
Rewarding Staff Participation
If you decide to offer an online community as an option rather than a requirement, you'll need to make it something employees want to do. To ensure success, use your electronic forum to help your staff feel connected to your organization and its larger constituency. The key is to encourage engagement through a clear strategy that takes advantage of your company culture and enhances your online reputation. Some of my favorite ideas include:
- Interview staff members
- Talk about employees
- Introduce team members to your fans
- Give employees responsibility as moderators
- Ask employees to create content such as columns, how-to's, testimonials, etc.
- Start a help desk where staff respond to online customer queries
- Run competitions for best photos, most comments, best posts, etc.
- Have contests for most followers or best fan engagement
- Create a challenge between departments or product lines
- Solicit posts about product knowledge
- Host design, writing or building contests
- Tie online activity to live company events attended by employees
It's not enough to build it and let employees take over from there. Ongoing support is essential for thriving online communities. Pencil-out well researched community manager policies and practices, including:
- Clear marketing/communication plan that specifies voice, style, content and amount of time employees are expected to spend online
- Well-organized message threads and a searchable archive of past exchanges
- Frequent references to the forum at live events and meetings, and in emails and newsletters
- Employee training on what it means to be an online community influencer
- Emphasis on brand awareness, product loyalty and online reputation
- Personal thanks to every employee who posts to your online forum
Your organization's online community strategy will not solve all your problems and answer all your questions. Rather, it's part of an overall organizational strategy to involve your staff in goal setting and change from within. Go ahead only if you are confident that you can give your employees the proper support and training to become reputable digital influencers whose online activity will reflect positively on your brand and organization.